Bhubaneswar | Armed with a sense of togetherness, self- belief and a strong crowd backing them every moment, India will seek to end 43 years of hurt when they begin the Hockey World Cup campaign against South Africa here Wednesday. The hosts’ Pool C encounter will open the showpiece at the Kalinga Stadium.
Eight-time Olympic champions India’s only glory at the World Cup came way back in 1975 when Ajit Pal Singh and his men’s created history for the past masters of the game.
Since then India has failed to match the standards of the Europeans — Netherlands, Germany — and Australia, who have been ruling the game for over four decades now. In the last 10 editions since its maiden triumph in 1975, India’s best performance was a fifth-place finish at the 1992 edition in Mumbai (then Bombay).
Now, the world ranked fifth Indians would be eager to recreate the magic by reaching the semifinals, and possibly a podium finish.
That is though easier said than done as besides tackling powerhouses like two-time defending champions Australia, Netherlands, Germany and Olympic champions Argentina, the Indians will be under pressure to live up to the expectations of millions of fans.
The last time India played a World Cup at home, in 2010 in New Delhi, it finished a lowly eighth and going by records, the host nation has never fared well in the tournament.
All the nine countries to host a World Cup till date have finished eighth or above but Harendra Singh’s men would be hoping to rewrite that in front of home fans.
For chief coach Harendra Singh, who has come under the scanner after India’s failure to defend it’s Asian Games title earlier this year, the tournament is a do-or-die one and a failure is sure to cost him his job.
Harendra would be hoping to recreate the magic of two years ago when he guided the junior Indian team to the World Cup title in Lucknow.
To achieve his goal, Harendra has drafted in seven of 18 junior World Cup winners in the senior team alongside senior pros like skipper Manpreet Singh, PR Sreejesh, Akashdeep Singh and the ever-reliable Birendra Lakra.
The Indian team for the World Cup is a mixture of youth and experience with seven of the 18 featuring in the last World Cup. The squad also has youthful exuberance in 19-year-old striker Dilpreet Singh and debutant Hardik Singh. But two notable absentees from the squad are dragflicker Rupinder Pal Singh, who has been dropped and striker SV Sunil, who is unfit.
In the 16-nation tournament India are placed alongside South Africa, Belgium and Canada in their group. Barring world no. 3 Belgium, India are expected to win hands down against world no. 15 South Africa and world no. 11 Canada.
The match against Belgium is India’s big test in the pool stages and a win against the Red Lions is a must for the hosts to avoid the cross-overs and qualify directly for the quarterfinals. After South Africa, India’s opponents are Belgium on December 2 and Canada on December 8.
It is only the second World Cup after 2002 to feature 16 teams. From four pools of four teams each, the toppers will directly qualify for the quarterfinals while the second and third placed sides will have to play four cross-over matches to earn their places in the last-eight round.
Just like all big-ticket hockey events, Australia, Netherlands and Germany will once again start favourites to lift the title. The Kookaburras, in fact, will be vying to create history by becoming the first team to win the trophy for the third time in a row. In the other match of the opening day, Belgium will take on Canada.
Saina beats Sindhu to retain Nationals crown, Sourabh claims third title
The three-time former champion Saina used her powerful smashes to telling effect, registering a 21-18 21-15 win the summit clash against Sindhu, who herself is a two-time winner.
Earlier, Sourabh Verma completed a hat-trick of titles, claiming the men’s singles crown by defeating young Lakshya Sen in straight games.
Saina and Sourabh went home richer by Rs 3.25 lakh while Sindhu and Sen received a cheque of Rs 1.70 lakh each.
“It was a good match and both of us played really well and it is a great feeling to win the nationals in such an atmosphere,” Saina, who has lost to Sindhu only once in international events at India Open 2017, told reporters.
“Sindhu is playing at the highest level for quite sometime and we both are playing well and she is a very tough opponent. It was not a simple match, there were tough rallies and simple errors from her helped me to win.”
In a repeat of last edition’s final in Nagpur, 2012 Olympics bronze medaliist Saina once again had the upper hand over Sindhu during the exciting clash which was witnessed by a capacity crowed at the TRP Indoor stadium here.
Saina had also defeated 2016 Rio Games silver medallist Sindhu at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games summit clash last year.
Sourabh, the 26-year-old from MP’s Dhar showed great composure and used his experience to outdo 17-year-old Lakshya for the second time at the senior national finals. He had beaten Lakshya, then 15, in February 2017.
“Winning the nationals for the first time (in 2011) is always special but this time also it was a great feeling. Lakshya is improving regularly and every time you have to be alert against him. It was my fourth final (lost in Patna Nationals) and third win,” Sourabh said.
“At 6-6 in first game, I had done unforced errors so I thought if I reduce my mistakes I can make a comeback.”
In men’s doubles, second seeded makeshift pair of Pranaav Jerry Chopra and Chirag Shetty clinched the title after beating top seeds Arjun MR and Shlok Ramchandran 21-13 22-20 in 33 minutes.
Chirag and Pranaav came together after the former’s regular partner Satwik Rankireddy was sidelined ahead of the tournament due to an injury. Satwik and Chirag had finished runners-up at the last edition.
For Pranaav, it is his third national title, having won the men’s doubles crown along with Akshay Dewalkar in 2013 and 2015 and the mixed doubles title with Prajakta Sawant in 2010.
Manu Attri and Maneesha K later beat top seeds Rohan Kapoor and Kuhoo Garg 18-21 21-17 21-16 to claim the mixed doubles crown.
In the women’s final, egged on by a vociferous crowd, Saina used her trademark smashes to either finish points or create openings.
Sindhu, on the other hand, lacked precision in her strokes, hit too many mid court returns, and also misjudged the shuttle at the back court.
Saina’s unforced errors initially cost her three points but she smashed her way to make it 3-4. Sindhu opened up a 7-5 lead but Saina managed to keep her nose ahead with a 11-10 lead at the break when Sindhu went wide.
Saina continued to dictate the pace, while Sindhu hit wide or at the net to allow her opponent to lead 15-11. A superb cross court smash and a net dribble gave Sindhu two points before she again hit long.
With Saina leading 18-15, the match was stopped due to an issue pertaining to indoor lighting.
On resumption, Sindhu played a smash and drop to reduce the deficit but Saina earned three game points with power packed smashes and sealed it with another after Sindhu saved one.
At 3-3 in the second game, Saina found the net twice but she again clawed back at 5-5 with a smash.
The 28-year-old continued her great run and eventually grabbed a 11-9 advantage when Sindhu’s smash went wide.
Errors continued to creep in her game as Saina sealed the contest without much ado. Earlier, the men’s singles final contest started on an even keel as both the players were locked at 12-12.
However, few unforced errors by Sourabh allowed Lakshya to move to 11-6 lead. The experienced Sourabh narrowed down the lead to 11-12 and then went to the lead at 16-15 when Lakshya smashed out.
Sourabh slowly extended his lead and grabbed the game point when Lakshya misjudged the length and his weak return was punished. The youngster saved a couple of game points before Sourabh sealed it.
In the second game, Sourabh zoomed to a 3-0 lead early and though Lakhsya drew level at 4-4, the former champion managed to eke out a 11-7 lead at the interval.
The teenager couldn’t stop his errors from cropping in his game as Sourabh grabbed 20-11 match point with a body smash. Lakshya saved two match points before conceding the title on the third.
We have shortlisted 18 players and will rotate them: Prasad on WC plans
Mumbai | National selection committee chairman MSK Prasad on Friday said that 18 cricketers have been shortlisted for the upcoming ODI World Cup and the BCCI is in talks with their respective IPL franchises to manage their workload ahead of the mega-event in England.
There have been discussions that India’s World Cup hopefuls’ workload management should be monitored during the IPL, starting March 23, so that they remain fresh during the May 30-July 14 extravaganza.
“We have shortlisted 18 players and we will rotate them during the World Cup. As far as workload management is concerned, it is yet to be worked out. There are discussions happening on that front and we will let you know,” Prasad told reporters after selecting various squads for the home limited-overs series against Australia which starts February 24.
Whether the franchises will agree to rest top India players on their roster after paying millions to have them has been a subject of debate.
When acting secretary Amitabh Choudhary was asked this question, he admitted that the franchises have diverse views on the matter.
“If your question suggests that the franchises will be wary of resting players, it is an issue we will deal with considering it’s a World Cup year. There have been views from franchises and I am not going into specifics,” he said.
He also urged the franchises to keep the national interest in mind.
“And also considering the fact that all the franchises are Indian franchises, the interest of the country, of doing well at the highest international level, is paramount,” Choudhary said.
Australia ODIs: Choice between Khaleel and Unadkat for ODIs
Mumbai | Zeroing in on players for a couple of available World Cup spots, including a toss-up between left-arm pacers Jaydev Unadkat and Khaleel Ahmed, will be the selection committee’s primary focus on Friday when it picks the India squad for the limited-overs series against Australia.
India will play two T20 Internationals and five ODIs, starting February 24, in what will be their last international assignment before the World Cup, which begins in England on May 30.
The series against Australia will also be an indicator as to who among Rishabh Pant and Dinesh Karthik will board the Heathrow-bound flight as a specialist-batsman-cum-second-wicketkeeper. KL Rahul is back in the mix as the third opener after a couple of good innings for India A against England Lions in the two unofficial Tests.
While the two T20 matches will be a pre-cursor to the ODI series, vice captain Rohit Sharma is likely to be given a short break to rejuvenate and come back fresh for the ODIs.
The selectors have already identified 13 certainties for the World Cup and they are Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Ambati Rayudu, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Vijay Shankar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami.
Skipper Kohli and pace spearhead Bumrah will be back in action for the final dress rehearsal and the selectors are unlikely look beyond 16 to 17 players, who are now in the scheme of things for the World Cup. There are at least four contenders for the last two slots depending on the combination the team management would want.
While Bumrah, Shami and Bhuvneshwar are certainties in the pace department, the bone of contention is a left-arm seamer who will add variation to the line-up. Khaleel, the young Rajasthan speedster, played in Australia and New Zealand but he looked like a work in progress who could be all at sea in a mega-event like the World Cup.
Unadkat, who has only sporadically played for India since his debut in 2010, is suddenly back in contention after a good Ranji Trophy season where he led Saurashtra to the final. Unadkat is a matured bowler now with more variations and an increase in pace. He is also more experienced courtesy his IPL stints.
A shoot-out is expected between Pant and Karthik, who are both finishers in their own right. Pant could also double up as the third opener although Rahul is also in contention as he has the team management’s backing.
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